Education and environmental protection - what companies can do
Deutsche Post DHL has published a future study examining trends up to the year 2020 and even further.
“Delivering Tomorrow - Customer Needs in 2020 and Beyond” is a collection of expert opinions and analyses on globalization, the economy, technology, logistics, the environment, and society as a whole. Frank Appel, CEO of Deutsche Post DHL, talks about the background to the study and reveals some of its findings.
Mr. Appel, why did you use this study to take a look into the future?
Frank Appel: Like any on long-term considerations based company, Deutsche Post DHL does not want to be taken unawares by developments, but would rather shape its own destiny. For that reason, we set up an international Delphi study and recruited the help of economic experts and scientists - as well as a number of our important customers. We looked at various scenarios for the future from different perspectives and evaluated their likelihood. Unlike other methods, an elaborate Delphi study provides reliable results about major trends in society, politics, and the economy. So we are using this extensive survey as the basis for developing approaches for positioning our company in the future. At the same time, it enables us to provide our customers and business partners with a valuable orientation guide to possible future events.
What did you specifically want to find out?
Appel: Broadly speaking, it is important to get an idea of where the world will be heading in the next ten years and beyond. We asked ourselves a number of questions, such as: What will the world economy look like after the financial crisis is over? Will reductions in carbon dioxide be enough to arrest the progress of climate change? What will be our main energy sources in the future? What will be the most important trends in society over the coming years? How will these affect our relationship with our customers, and will they cause any fundamental change in customer needs? Will we treat education, one of our most important resources, more responsibly in the future? And, most importantly for us: Which direction will logistics take and what role can the sector play in making our world a pleasant place to live in?
Have you now got the answers?
Appel: To answer these and other questions, we turned to people who I believe are some of the greatest authorities in this area: our customers. That's because it's not up to us to decide, but rather to those we serve every day. So, together with our specialists, we started by working out a catalog of theses which we then presented to 900 managers selected from our client base. Customer focus starts with listening to customers! Consequently, we asked our customers to clearly state what they want today and what they expect from us in the future. And now we have a whole series of highly significant pointers.
And what do customers expect in the future?
Appel: If you read the study, you will find analyses on a wide variety of topics, including globalization, the economy, technology, logistics, the environment, and society. It's a broad-based study, so it's not really that easy to reduce it to just a few key words. Basically, however, the study shows that issues like sustainability, education, and social responsibility will gain in importance for companies. So by implementing programs like GoGreen and Teach First Germany today, we are already preparing ourselves for the challenges of the future, and by highlighting key issues early on we are pointing the way ahead.
One finding that is particularly important for us right now is that the majority of those we questioned are optimistic and firmly believe that the global market economy will not suffer any lasting damage as a result of the current financial crisis. Despite negative figures and developments, business experts believe that the mechanisms of the market economy can be utilized to deal with the global problems.
Turning to the environment: How "green" will the economy be in 2020?
Appel: Most experts believe that climate change is the greatest danger facing mankind and will thus trigger a green revolution with regard to products and services. Global warming will force governments to rethink their environmental policies. The very ubiquitousness of this threat will also change the consciousness of every individual, significantly influencing their future behavior. More people in 2020 will, for example, be driving vehicles with alternative methods of propulsion. They will consciously select environmentally friendly products - right across the board.
They will also accept that these cost a little more. In some places, it will become compulsory to display the carbon footprint on products so that consumers can see at a glance how much carbon dioxide was produced to manufacture and deliver the item. Consumers will be much more dogged than today in their demands for this information and will avoid unlabeled products and services. This kind of customer behavior will influence the economy's environmental standards far more than state regulation. The world will be a greener place in ten years' time; therefore companies will need to be greener too, if they want to be successful.
How is your company reacting to that?
Appel: Ensuring that the logistics of the future is as environmentally friendly as possible is one of our strategic goals. We already offer carbon-neutral shipping, for example. And we were also the first logistics company to create a climate protection program that ties us to specific emission reduction targets. We're already on the right track. But as the Delphi study shows, by 2020 a good number of our competitors will have copied us. So we have to keep on finding new ways to keep ahead.
The logistics industry is considered one of the most important service sectors in a globalized economy, but not really one of the most innovative. Will that change? And if so, how?
Appel: The experts are convinced - as am I - that the logistics industry will become a genuine trendsetter, setting the standards that others will follow. The pressure to innovate is growing constantly. Our customers are predicting that the price of oil could rise to 300 US dollars a barrel, and alternative means of propulsion will be on the rise. Nevertheless, our customers predict that renewable energies will still not have established themselves as our main source of energy by 2020. As a consequence, the mega-cities of the future will introduce strict regulations for delivery traffic, and the logistics service providers who compete with each other today will have to set up cooperative networks and share resources.
What will private customers expect from a logistics company?
Appel: Although many things will be different in 2020, customers will continue to behave in roughly the same way. They will be just as demanding as they are now - and insist on the same levels of convenience. In future, private customers will expect everything they buy - and most of these purchases will be made via the Internet, of course, because in 2020 a good deal of the population of the world will be online - to be delivered straightaway. Delivery to private or company addresses is just one option. It will be more common for customers to want their delivery dispatched to exactly where the goods have to be at that time.
A fundamental challenge for the logistics industry will be to fulfill these customer needs and yet, at the same time, protect the environment. Business clients will be no less demanding. They will expect their logistics provider to understand their internal processes and take on more responsibility. To this end, information logistics - the exchange of data between logistics provider and client - will have to be much more transparent than it is today.
You carried out the Delphi study parallel to the development of a new corporate strategy that takes your company through to 2015. Do the two overlap at all?
Appel: Indeed, the study has certainly had an influence on our Group strategy. We now have a much better idea of what our customers look for in a logistics company. They want more than just transport, supply chain management, outsourcing, flexibility, and transparency. They expect us to deliver perfect service, but also to take on social responsibility. Our services have to make life of our customers easier. The sooner we meet these expectations, the faster we will move from being a large logistics firm that provides a good service to being an outstanding logistics provider with delighted customers.
Nobody foresaw September 11 or the financial crisis. Swine flu caught us all by surprise too, when all the warnings were still focused on bird flu. How reliable can the Delphi study predictions be?
Appel: A Delphi study cannot make exact predictions about those kinds of unexpected events. But unlike other, less laborious methods, Delphi studies do provide highly precise and reliable results about tomorrow's major social, political, and economic trends - as long as these developments are in some way evident today. Of course, our study did not foresee swine flu, but we did ask our experts to assess the risk of epidemics. The findings are comforting - they show that although we will be repeatedly afflicted by pandemics, modern medicine should keep them under control and they will not harm the global economy.
The study also cites certain problems that will remain unsolved, such as global overpopulation, which a majority of the experts believe is unavoidable. It points to the struggle for resources and the danger that many of today's developing countries will lose out. And the study also claims that, even in Europe, increasing numbers of people will be drawn to undemocratic, authoritarian groups, and that social unrest will be more common.
Appel: Yes, ten or twenty years from now the world won't be perfect by any means. But that's not to say that we should turn a blind eye to these dangers - we have to start thinking about what possibilities exist now to solve these problems. One starting point is the wealth generated by a knowledge-based society. And education is a prerequisite for that.
The general feeling among the respondents is one of optimism. Do you share that view?
Appel: Absolutely! There used to be a naive belief in never-ending progress. Naive, because it was based on a perfect world full of perfect people. We're never going to live in a world like that. But the pursuit of progress is something that is deeply ingrained in humankind. Our society has moved forward time and again - and that shows us that the world has a great chance to be a better place tomorrow than it is today.